News Cast 7/21

News Cast for July 21st:

The Okeechobee City Council will be meeting this evening and they will discuss the status of the COVID-19 in the city. They’ll also discuss the proposed fire services agreement with the county and they’ll look to approve the maximum millage rate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The meeting will begin at six o’clock in City Hall. Seating is limited due to social distancing guidelines. The meeting will be available to view on the Zoom application. Please contact the City Administrator’s office for information on logging on through Zoom to see the meeting.

This past weekend, the community of Okeechobee lost not only a legend in the agricultural and dairy industries, but a legend in the community, period. Louis Ellwood “Red” Larson, the patriarch of Larson Dairy Inc., passed away this past Friday at the age of 96 with family around him. Larson was born on a farm in South Dakota before the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s moved he and his family to Hollywood where he eventually started a dairy farm before land prices caused him to move the business to Okeechobee and became a worldwide leader in the dairy industry, winning many awards over the years. Mayor Dowling Watford, who got to know Larson through the Kiwanis Club, says Larson can be described as a great guy, a good Christian man and a real gentleman and it didn’t matter if you were a “king or president, he treated everyone the same and you were his friend.” Watford says what made him successful was not just his knowledge of the dairy industry but also his leadership style.

Larson was also a World War II veteran, serving in the US Army Air Corp. Among his many accolades was a dairy science building at the University of Florida named after him in 2006. There will be drive-thru visitation hosted by the family on Sunday beginning at four o’clock at the Okeechobee Agricultural Center and a Celebration of Life Ceremony at the First Baptist Church, of which he was a devout supporter, on Monday at eleven o’clock. The service will be streamed live on www.Youtube.com.

The issue of upcoming events at the Agri-Civic Center became a topic of conversation during last week’s COVID-19 status meeting with the Okeechobee County Commissioners and Emergency Management. County Fire Chief Ralph Franklin says there will be programs at the Agri-Civic Center to enhance safety and cleaning protocols during events. This will include electronic signage to remind people about social distancing and increasing cleaning protocols for staff during events. Franklin says for people wanting to hold events at the Agri-Civic Center, they will have to prepare a plan that will need to be approved by the Emergency Management and it will include some things that people should already know.

Franklin says this plan will need to be approved not just by his department but also by the Community Services Director, Denise Whitehead. The information that will be included in these plans will be made known soon.

Okeechobee County has surpassed the six and a half century mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of cases in Okeechobee County is at 662 with two fatalities. 659 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 36. 62 county residents have been hospitalized. Those who have tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and going through routine contact tracing. Along with fever, coughing and shortness of breath, other COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for include chills, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a sudden loss of sense of smell or sense of taste.

As of yesterday morning, there are 360,394 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state since March and 355,899 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll now stands at 5,072 with 21,263 people hospitalized. Okeechobee County Commissioners renewed the local state of emergency last week.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus at CVS Pharmacy in Okeechobee, the Okeechobee County Health Department, the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital or by contacting Florida Community Health Centers at (863) 763-7481. You must meet certain criteria before you can be tested and you need to make an appointment. If you’re not sure if you fit the criteria to be tested, please call the county health department and they’ll let you know for sure. These testing sites are available on weekends. Wal-Mart is no longer doing their drive-thru testing program.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm now every Tuesday thru Saturday. This number, which also doubles as the phone number of the County Library is manned by live personnel and callers can ask about county updates on the Coronavirus and what is being done. The hotline will not address questions about the virus itself or medical questions. The County Library phone number/hotline related to county updates on the Coronavirus is (863) 763-3536. Any questions related to the virus itself, please call the Okeechobee Health Department at (863) 462-5800 or the 24/7 Department of Health hotline at (866) 779-6121.

Remember, the key to avoiding the Coronavirus is good personal hygiene. Washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes or face with unwashed hands. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from someone when greeting them and not shaking any hands. Avoid shopping at peak hours and use delivery services instead.  Avoid places where there are 10 people or more.

If you need further information about the virus and recommendations for preventing it, please log on to the Department of Health at floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

A vehicle fire caught the attention of Okeechobee County firefighters on Thursday afternoon. Crews were called to the scene on the seven thousand block of US Highway 98 North shortly before five o’clock and arrived to a sports utility vehicle (SUV) where the fire reportedly started in the engine and had already been extinguished by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators say the SUV driver was heading down the road when he pulled over because the engine was running pretty rough. He opened the hood and noticed smoke coming out and it then caught fire. The fire caused some damage to the engine and engine compartment before the sheriff’s deputy extinguished it with a fire extinguisher. No one was hurt and no other damages. The estimated cost of damages to the engine is five thousand dollars. It’s under investigation.

On the arrest report:

37 year old Russell Osceola Junior of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for intimidating a witness and contempt of court. His bond is set at $151 thousand dollars.

49 year old Steven Troy Vandermolen of Okeechobee was arrested on two counts of violating probation on undisclosed charges. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

24 year old Edgar Austin Ochoa of Okeechobee was arrested for disorderly intoxication and causing a public disturbance. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

38 year old Robert Henry Thompson of Okeechobee was arrested for tampering with an electronic device. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

53 year old Jeffrey Eugene Carter of Okeechobee was arrested by police for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia during a traffic stop. His bond is set at three thousand dollars.

26 year old Raheem Mairquis Matchett of Okeechobee was arrested by police for kidnapping, strangulation and false imprisonment during a domestic dispute. His bond is set at seven thousand dollars.